Second Sight: The Abject Terror of The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Divisive auteur Yorgos Lanthimos' films are insidious.  They present social critiques through the guise of pitch black, borderline horrific comedies that eschew any sense of audience hand holding.  Lanthimos' interest lies in plumbing the depths of the human condition, with a particular focus on the depravities that lurk within. His latest feature, The Killing of a Sacred Deer mixes Lanthimos' trademark uncomfortable humor with unparalleled terror, creating an unconventional horror film that will polarize audiences for years to come.  

Steven is a successful surgeon who develops a mentor relationship with a young man named Martin.  As Martin continues to insinuate himself into Steven's family life, things begin to slowly go awry, leading to a reckoning in which the price for sins of the past is an unspeakable tithe.  This is more of an experience than a traditional film, a truth that will undoubtedly divide those who view it.  Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou's script is a glacial constrictor, taking an onerous amount of time to weave its terrible work.  This is a living trap, created by a meticulous madman that locks down the viewer's expectations with hilarious dialogue that is awkwardly dappled throughout.  The result is that the viewer is so intrigued by the proceedings, they don't recognize the danger until it is far too late.  While it is apparent that things are wrong from the onset, Killing goes to great lengths to conceal its true intentions before plummeting down a murderous rabbit hole.  

There are titanic themes at work throughout.  On the surface, religious allegories abound, as topics of sacrifice, revenge, and sin are explored within both subtle and overt examples woven into the marrow of the film's labyrinthine presentation.  Underneath lies disconcerting truths and suppositions on the unknown and the uncompromising nature of truth, particularly when dealing with our loved ones.  The idea of humans, comfortable in their realities, being confronted by things beyond both their illusionary control and the limits of reality is a common theme in religion and mythology.  The brilliance of this film is the manner in which Lanthimos presents his fable:  It is a horror film that transcends the capabilities of the genre by presenting a simple, yet fascinating morality play in such a way that that it melds with the viewer's subconscious, penetrating the mind’s eye with the inevitable: In the end, hubris topples kingdoms, whether personal sanctums or storied nations, and our inability to accept things outside our control will ultimately destroy us.  

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are outstanding as the couple at the center of Lanthimos’ moral maelstrom.  Farrell's delivery is perfect, demonstrating his innate understanding of the script's bizarre cadence.  Kidman's turn is one of her more complex performances and her embodiment of maternal pragmatism is one of the film's many surprises.  Everything in Lanthimos' world swirls within notions of draconian morals, amplifying day to day conflicts and transgressions to the point where it is unavoidable for the viewer not to reflect on their own lives and the way this is filtered through the two leads is outstanding. 

Despite these remarkable performances, Barry Keoghan's unforgettable role is one of the year's most chilling experiences.  This is the performance of a lifetime: A seemingly innocuous young man whose biblical application of karma is both terrifying in its resplendence and absolutely hysterical in its delivery.  Keoghan's unrelenting presence dominates every scene that he inhabits, looming over the sterile environs like a living skeleton in the closet.  Raffey Cassidy supports as the couple's eldest child, and her performance is the perfect accoutrement to Keoghan's totemic might.  Her skin crawling rendition of Burn helped to create one of the year's most disturbing trailers and its placement within the film is the perfect prologue to the darkness that awaits.  

Comparisons with Stanley Kubrick's The Shining have been noted by many critics.  Thimios Bakatakis' brooding cinematography makes use of long dolly shots, slowly creeping down hallways and moving behind conversations, creating a conspiratorial ambiance.  The viewer’s vantage point makes them a phantom, delving deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Lanthimos' design while remaining strangely at arm’s length from the conflict.  The soundtrack, comprised of various classical compositions elevates the dread to an almost tangible level, instantly conjuring memories of the sinister Overlook Hotel.  The result is the kind of film Lanthimos is known for: deliberate, dark, and absolutely merciless.  

In theaters now, and coming soon to digital on demand, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is outstanding horror film.  The script took top honors at the Cannes Film Festival and it, along with Lanthimos' directing are prime examples of a master at work.  This is an endurance test of the highest order.  There's virtually no violence and everything, including the terror will depend entirely on what the viewer unpacks from the narrative and this will most certainly repel many.  However, for those looking for something unique and enigmatic, this is an exceptional experience that will confound and horrify in equal amounts.  Easily one of the strongest films of the year, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Lanthimos' vision of a personal hell given life.

-- Kyle Jonathan